So it's Christmas time or you know a Catholic sister who is celebrating her Jubilee or a special day. You're thinking to yourself, What in the world do I get for a nun? Maybe she's your child's teacher or principal, or maybe she's a coworker or mentor, or maybe she's your cousin or aunt. However you know her, you've got yourself a quandary because she's a nun. And nuns are different, right? They've got rules about stuff like that, don't they?
First let me say that it is VERY thoughtful of you to consider giving a gift. Whatever you give, will be meaningful because it is from you!
By virtue of our vow of poverty and our community life, nuns live simply. We generally don't have a lot of stuff nor do we need lots of stuff. But there is no rule against receiving gifts (within reason) for personal use or for the mission and life of the community.
Ministry is very important to sisters. We often sacrifice our own personal resources in order to further our ministry. Giving a gift to help support a nun's ministry is a welcome gift indeed. For example, I personally don't really need anything, but I'd gladly take anything (money, volunteer help, technical consultation) that can help further the ministry of A Nun's Life. Most nuns that I know are like that because we love the ministry that we do.
Now just because we are nuns and dig God and our Catholic faith doesn't mean that we only like or want religious-type gifts. In fact, in an informal survey of nuns, most specifically said they do not want religious gifts. My guess is that religious gifts are the only thing that people think nuns can receive so nuns get tons of religious stuff. Nothing wrong with this, but just know that nuns can receive and do appreciate non-religious gifts too.
I personally cannot resist gifts made by children. So if you are giving a gift to your child's teacher, catechist or principal, consider having your child make something. This tip qualifies tip #2 because while Sister may have what she needs in terms of religious items, a handmade gift from a child (yes, adults too) is precious.
By virtue of our chosen lifestyle, we are community women. We live in community, we pray in community, we discern in community, and we hang in community. So it's nice when we receive a gift that we can share with our nuns. Maybe it's a plate of homemade cookies, or a 3-month subscription to Netflix, or a gift certificate to a local restaurant. It might even be offering to help the community set up wireless Internet on their computer(s) or teaching them how to use the Internet or a particular kind of software. If you are handy, offer to sew or do light carpentry for the sisters. Such gifts are invaluable to us.
Maybe your nun has a passion for supporting the troops overseas or for helping adults learn to read and write. Maybe she does the 3-Day Walk for a Cure every year. Whatever it is, consider donating to that charity or cause.
I know it may seem impersonal to give a gift certificate, but seriously, it is a great gift because Sister can choose what she needs. Maybe it's the newest hip-hop CD or a specific book that will help her with her ministry.
Nuns may never, ever tell you this themselves, but I'm here to tell you that nuns do appreciate cash. It can be used for whatever it is that they need or care about. It helps every so often to have a spare $20 or something to help out someone in need or to eat out one night or to pick up a new book or to get that runny sink fixed once and for all. Giving to Sister's religious community is also a very good thing. Nuns also experience financial hardship and would greatly benefit from donations.